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Nutty Newt?

2011 December 20
by Randy H. Milgrom

Newt Gingrich says as President he’d require judges—including Supreme Court Justices—to “explain their rulings” at Congressional hearings. Asked which rulings would be the subject of this cumbersome (not to mention unconstitutional) scrutiny, he admitted that he’d start only with those that were “extreme.”

Under the heading of saying what you mean—or of this blog’s narrower line of inquiry, which is deciding whether public speakers have said what they’ve meant to say—let us examine Newt’s nonsense.

First, under what power might President Gingrich summon Antonin Scalia (okay, Ruth Bader Ginsberg)? The President of the United States has no subpoena power of any kind—and even if such a power existed, is it even imaginable that it would extend to the use of the floor of the House or the well of the Senate? And why must they “explain their rulings?” Isn’t that precisely what judges and justices likely would already have accomplished in their often lengthy — if “extreme” — written opinions?

And that, of course, is the crux of it. “Extreme” to whom? Newt has pointed vaguely to a series of rulings that he claims have systematically stripped religion from public life, but he didn’t even mention the arguably most extreme recent case of Citizens United, which trampled nearly a century of case law to declare a corporation the equivalent of a person in terms of its right to political speech. But that’s extreme, presumably, only to those on the political left. Not Newt’s peeps.

So did Gingrich say what he meant to say? I suppose, unfortunately, that he did. He was pandering to that portion of his political base that fervently abhors “activist judges,” and to those on the religious right. And calling judges to account for their heathenish ways is precisely what’s due, I imagine, according to that crowd—no matter how nutty Newt’s cure.

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